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  • Aspire » Productivity

    15 Jun

    Picture by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

    People are busy these days…and most business owners are crazy busy to the point where it’s not a surprise to miss out on family, friends or things they would just enjoy doing. There’s a desperate need to be more productive, more efficient with time, to get more done.

    What if being more productive, more efficient isn’t really an answer?

    Think about it this way – what if you compared your challenge of needing to get more done with the challenge of having a long commute every day to and from work (which might contribute to you not having enough time).

    Studies have shown that long commutes are devastating – even a significant risk to your marriage so it’s a problem worth solving. But the typical thinking when people try to address a long commute is to nibble around the edges: find a better route to work, try to travel during non-peak traffic times, consider mass transit, get a better/faster car. If you can shave 15 minutes off of an hour long commute, you’ve done something pretty amazing.

    But you still have a 45 minute commute (probably with increased risks of traffic safety and tickets) – yes it’s better, but did you really solve your problem?

    To put it into the context of productivity – maybe you implemented some great time management techniques and now you can get 25% more stuff done. You’re more efficient but you may or may not be more effective. You’re still working 60+ hours and there is always more  to do.

    Maybe you need to consider the commute problem in a completely different way.  When it comes to your long commute you do have other choices – ones that change the game:

    • You could move closer to where you work
    • You could change jobs to something closer to where you live
    • You could push for telecommuting

    None of these will make you more efficient at commuting – but all of them would have a MUCH bigger impact on the problem that you’re trying to solve (more effective).

    Changing the Rules for Productivity

    If we take the same approach to the challenge of being truly productive – what options do you have?

    The good news is that as a business owner you actually have a lot of great options (although you might not believe it).  In his book The One Thing, author and entrepreneur Gary Keller (he’s the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty) makes a great point that your success is driven by the vital few…a very small number of activities that have a disproportionate impact on your outcomes. Also known as the 80/20 Rule, the concept is pretty simple – figure out what you do (that others can’t do or don’t do as well) that drives the engine of your business – and just do those things.

    Stop doing all the other stuff you spend your time on – either delegate it, automate it or literally just stop doing it.

    Let’s say your special skill is selling – but as the owner of the business you currently only spend a few hours a week on selling (and yet you’re still the rainmaker for the company). Hire a great general manager – someone you can trust, who has the administrative, management and leadership skills to do a lot of the other stuff that takes up your time and spend the majority of your time selling.

    Your initial thought might be: “I can’t afford to hire someone like that” – if you could sell more…say 30%, 50% or even 100% more, it’s likely that you could afford to hire someone else.

    You might also think: “They won’t be as good as I am when it comes to running the business.”  You might be right (although none of us is great at everything).  But even if that’s true, if someone else can be at 80% of your level for most things…and if you hire right, even better than you at some other things, then overall you’ll be fine.  Plus it’s not like you’re leaving – you’ll be around to train, coach and help out when it’s needed.

    Imagine cutting back your responsibilities to the one or two things that you not only are really good at, but really enjoy.  Imagine cutting back your hours and just working 40 or even 50 hours a week maximum…getting enough sleep…having the time to really think and plan and be proactive for a change – that’s when your business really has a chance to become something.

    This isn’t easy – but it will solve your problem of working too much…which by the way is a symptom of a business that’s ultimately in trouble. In order to successfully scale your business you will have to find some way to make a big change like this – or eventually end up closing down your business. If you’re looking for more ideas or details on this – check out 15 Ideas to Make You Super Productive.

    The hardest part isn’t all the work and planning around how to make a change like this, the hardest part for most business owners is breaking the pattern of how they’ve always done things. Opening up to new ideas and being willing to let go of key responsibilities. If you can get your mind around this new idea – you’re way more than 1/2 way there.

    What do you think? Have you figured out how to focus on your strength? Your sweet spot? Your One Thing? Are you trying to find ways to drive faster or are you getting rid of your commute overall?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach


    04 May


    To-Do List Everything Dry Erase Board Overworked Stress

    Ask almost any business owner or professional how they are and the most likely answer you’ll get is “Busy”.  The problem with ‘busy’ is that it doesn’t equate to productive (as in getting the most important things done) – it generally just translates to busy.

    Busy makes you feel like you’re getting a lot done. Busy makes it look like you’re getting a lot done. Busy makes you work longer hours…according to a recent Gallup study the average work week is now 47 hours and almost 40% of workers are working more than 50 hours a week (despite the fact that the data clearly shows that longer hours don’t equate to more productivity).

    But ‘busy’ actually makes it really hard to think…to prioritize…to focus deeply and come up with new ideas, and if you’re not doing those things, then no matter how hard you work or how busy you are, you’re not going to be productive in the long run.

    Over 100 years ago Vilfredo Pareto discovered what’s commonly called the 80/20 rule,  the Pareto principle or the law of the vital few…the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Whatever you call it – the gist of it is that not all work is created equal. In fact there are only a handful of things that you do that really make a difference – and real productivity comes from understanding and focusing ONLY on those things that move the needle.

    Why are we all so ‘busy’?

    If we know about the 80/20 rule, then why are we so busy?  Constantly improving technology and connectivity (always on and available) are part of the problem, along with a society that has equated success with long hours of hard work.

    But even more than those reasons, there are 3 deeply held assumptions…myths really, that drive us to embrace being ‘busy’ over being productive. According to Greg McKeown – author of Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, those 3 myths are:

    1. I have to.
    2. It’s all important.
    3. I can do both.

    Let’s take a look at the impact of these myths:

    I have to…

    How many times have you been faced with a pile of work that you either didn’t know how to do or didn’t want to do and yet you were still thinking “I have to get this done.”?  As a business owner or a manager the buck stops with you and it’s easy to fall into the trap that stuff just has to be done and it’s easiest if you just do it.

    The reality is that you always have a choice – you may not like all of your options, but you still have a choice and it’s critical to remember that. It’s your ability to choose that ultimately allows you to be productive. Strategically some things are much more important than others and only the power of choice will enable you to steer towards the right things (and stop doing the less important things).

    It’s all important…

    As mentioned earlier, Pareto made it clear that some things are much, much more important than others, but the average work environment doesn’t operate that way. Go into almost any team or business and ask them what’s important and they’ll come back with a laundry list of their top priorities – but if everything is important…then nothing is important. The reality is that you can’t do it all.

    According to McKeown the Essentialist believes that almost everything is non-essential and works hard to distinguish the vital few from the trivial many. Spending more time and effort up front, really understanding a situation in order to drastically cut back on work, effort and time from the back end.

    Get it right up front and stop wasting time on all of that stuff that’s actually not important. (Easier said than done, but critical if you really want to be productive).

    I can do both…

    The last myth is probably the most pervasive in today’s society. It’s the idea that we are somehow wired to be able to do multiple things at the same time…and at the same level of competence and execution.  On a personal level, this is the myth of multitasking (it’s been shown that someone multitasking is effectively operating as if they were drunk…about 40% impaired).  For a business the idea of “I can do both…” results in trying to please everyone – which as you likely know results in really pleasing no one.

    We truly believe that we can do both because the alternative is making a difficult trade-off. Should I engage fully in this meeting or should I respond to these emails? It would save a lot of time and effort if you can just do both…but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

    Southwest airlines made the choice and the important trade off of being the low cost airline. When passengers and the press pressured them to offer more flights, or meals on the flights they stuck to their choice of being THE low cost airline even though it alienated a few people. That trade-off allowed them to focus on what was really important for them – and be great at it.

    The path of the Essentialist is challenging but fruitful

    If you really want to be productive, Essentialism recommends the disciplined pursuit of less…which includes the following ideas:

    • You always have a choice about where you spend your time and efforts,
    • Most things are NOT important…so you need to find and focus on the vital few and,
    • When you choose (and you must choose) there is always a trade-off because you can’t do both, even if you really, really want to.

    Do these myths resonate with you? Do you find yourself working really hard and still not really getting things done? Maybe it’s time to start thinking differently.  What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach


    22 Sep
    photo by Kenny Louie via Flickr

    photo by Kenny Louie via Flickr

    Good bye Summer, the first official day of Fall has arrived, another year is flying by.  Soon the leaves will be falling.  Just as leaves need to be raked (or mulched) so you can see what they are hiding, you can benefit by applying this same principle to your business as well. (Think of it as a second round of spring cleaning…).

    Clean your desk or work space

    At least a few of our clients struggle with keeping their desks organized.  (No Names, to protect the innocent 😉 )  Even at a time when most companies are trying to “Go Green”….one pile becomes two,  two becomes three,  and pretty soon it looks like a paper mill.   A lot of people struggle with this one, so don’t beat yourself up if this sounds like you.

    Working with your team, suggest starting by creating a system to process what’s currently on the desk.   The first step is condensing, toss what is trash, file what can be filed, and prioritize the rest.   A great goal with paperwork is to try and touch it only one time, two times if it is something you will complete later.

    You always see a look of accomplishment on someone’s face when they report their desk or work space has been cleaned.

    Clean the vehicle you use for work

    If your only mode of transportation is public, then this may not apply to you.  But if you drive to work, drive for work, be it company owned or personally owned, this does apply to you.   Not only does it improve the image you present of yourself, it also improves the resale value of the vehicle and reduces maintenance costs (because you are more likely to notice issues in advance).   This is paramount for businesses with fleets.  Every customer who sees your vehicles is judging your business by the way the vehicles are maintained.  They don’t have to be new, but there is no reason they shouldn’t be clean.

    No one sees the car you drive for work?   Clean it any way, and see if you don’t feel better driving it to work the next day.   Plus getting rid of that 3 week old half eaten Big Mac under the seat can really improve the air quality!

    Clean the area your customers/clients see the most

    This may be a meeting room, waiting room, store entrance, view from a curb, a drive up window,  or maybe it is just you.   The point is you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression.   So although the ultimate goal is have your entire business spotless, the baby step approach is what actually works (most fail from trying to do too much at once).   So start with the area that your customers or clients see the most.

    Have you ever walked into a restaurant when there is a line and you end up sitting on that bench near the entrance waiting for your table?   If this area is filthy, do you ever wonder what the kitchen may look like where they are preparing your food? Would you want people thinking anything like that with your business?

    What about a hotel lobby?  Which hotel would you feel more confident about having clean rooms, one with a clean lobby or dirty lobby when you are checking in?   Do you get the picture?  Where is your #1 spot that customers see all the time? Every business has one.  Identify your risk spot and give it good cleaning.

    Finally, enjoy the fall weather.  There is no better time of year to get outside than the Fall – especially in Kansas City; some or all of these may allow you to do that.   You may even have fun with it.   As always feel free to add additional thoughts in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    28 Jan
    Photo by Elsie esq. via Flickr

    Photo by Elsie esq. via Flickr

    We are often asked where inspiration comes from for our blog posts…this one should be self-explanatory. 😉    Reducing unnecessary distractions continues to be one of the most significant opportunities for improving our client’s productivity at work and in their personal time.   Imagine having an Auto-Flush for these unwanted distractions…! What would be the top 5 things you would flush first?   How would it improve your productivity?

    This is somewhat unscientific, but observation and experience has shown these to be perennial distractions in 21st century business that would be better served on the receiving end of a high powered Auto-Flush.

    Email Management:  Frequently, this is one of the biggest opportunities for an automatic flusher to go to work and keep correspondence organized and prioritized.    You may enjoy reading Newsletters, checking groupon offers, and reading up on your favorite sports team feed, but when you’re allowing them to interrupt your day, it’s not a productive way to work.   If you want to watch some great “how-to” videos, here are links to three of the more popular email providers; Outlook, I-Cloud, and Google.   Let the system (auto-flush) organize them as they come in.  When you do access them, they are presorted so you’ll be more efficient reading them as well.

    Involved in issues others are responsible for:   If you have ever been asked a question that clearly should be directed to someone else, you are aware of this distractor.   For the Auto-Flush to work in this case, you must refrain from answering the question, even if it is the quickest “short-term” solution.   Instead, redirect it to the appropriate person. Start training people who to go to and don’t allow them to use you as the short cut.  Getting the right people in the right seats on the bus has to be more than lip service and a name on an organizational chart.  It has to be implemented.  Once your employees understand who is responsible for what the Auto-Flusher will take over.

    Scheduling: Trying to schedule meetings going back and forth using email or playing phone tag can be exhausting.  Certainly there is a place where more formal communication is appropriate. But implementing a clear shift of scheduling between acquainted business contacts, company employees, and family members to google calendar, outlook, iCal, or a professional scheduling software like Timetrade will create an Auto-Flush that cuts out a lot of time confirming who, when, and where.

    Getting Paid: Cash is King, we say it all the time.  If you aren’t getting paid timely, your business will struggle.  Today, there are so many great electronic options available; the excuses for not having this on Auto-Flush are getting limited, yet we continue to see business struggle with getting paid.  You’re probably familiar with PayPal. But that is just one of many.  We are big fans of IPN (Intuit’s product).   Also check out SquareDowalla, and Square Cash.   More directly needing e-commerce?  Check out cubecartwoocommerce, and shopify.   Take some time to research the security level of these products.  Not that they are not safe, but depending on how you set them up the level of security can vary.   If plugging one of these into your business appears daunting, we would be happy to refer you to someone who can help.

    Data Backup:  If you still haven’t installed an Auto-Flush on this function of your business, I hope this is the catalyst to call the plumber (figuratively speaking)!  I heard two different stories again this past week of businesses that had harddrives/servers fail without having current backups.  The cost to try and correct these mistakes is costly and regardless how hard one tries, you will still be missing information.  Can you answer this simple statement?


    ____________ is responsible for backing up our company data.


    With so many inexpensive options out there, don’t be someone’s backup horror story.    If you find yourself confused with the options, we will be glad to connect you with a professional.

    Do any of these sound familiar in your business?  What are you doing that you would like to see automated to the point that is did not require effort on your part or the part of your employees to get completed?   Take a few minutes and think about it.  At your next staff meeting, challenge them and see where an Auto-Flush just might be the answer to improving a step that is costing your business money and wasting valuable time.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach

    06 Jan
    Picture from Official US Navy Imagery via Flickr

    Picture from Official US Navy Imagery via Flickr

    Tell me which of these scenarios is more likely:

    1. Small business gets a call out of the blue and is offered a huge distribution deal – instantly growing their top line (assuming they can deliver) by 10X what it was before.
    2. Small business focuses on getting the little things right, gets a little better every day and over the course of 3-5 years grows by 10X.

    We’ve all heard anecdotes about the lucky strike, the cool business that gets profiled on Oprah and takes off like crazy – but unfortunately it’s the equivalent of winning the lottery.  Yes it can happen, but it’s not something you seriously plan on and if that’s the extent of your long term strategy, you’re in trouble.

    Overnight successes almost never actually happen overnight, regardless of how they’re portrayed in the news.

    In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shared his theory of the 10,000 hour rule – that is, it takes at least 10,000 hours of focused practice for someone to truly excel and become a master at whatever it is that they do. To put that into context, it’s about 5 years of FULL TIME effort in order to reach that threshold. Most ‘overnight’ successes have put in at least this much time before they’re ‘discovered’.

    But we’d all like to change, to succeed now! Every year most of us write down a big resolution or two and end up disappointed and frustrated…usually within a few weeks.

    Why the failure?

    One of the problems with resolutions is that we try to take on too much. We ignore the 10,000 hour rule and attempt to jump directly to mastery. We try to run too fast and end up running out of gas instead – because success, especially meaningful improvements are hard and don’t happen overnight.

    A Better Way To Change

    The good news is there is a better way. A proven technique that will, if followed with discipline, almost guarantee that you can achieve great things.

    A few caveats before we get into the heart of this ‘secret':

    • You have to want…I mean REALLY want the change.
    • You MUST take responsibility for yourself and the outcomes in your life. It’s up to you and no one else.
    • There are no shortcuts or silver bullets – change requires time and effort and there’s no way around it.

    What’s the ‘secret’? It’s likely that you’re going to be disappointed, but the best way to change and improve personally and professionally is to get a little better each day.You’ve likely heard it before – slow and steady wins the race. It may be a cliche, but it’s still true.

    Financially a lot of books have outlined this theme for success – starting with The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. After interviewing U.S. millionaires for a number of years, they developed a list of 7 rules that can help anyone achieve Millionaire status.

    The first rule?  Always live within your means.  

    Profoundly simple, yet clearly not a rule that a lot of people follow…at least not on a consistent regular basis (based on the Average Credit Card debt of $15,000+).

    Start Small

    Whether you’ve done your New Year’s Resolutions or not, if you really want to change, the best bet is to start small.

    The first step is to figure out what you want to change – because you’re starting small, you need to be focused and intentional. Identify 1 area that you feel is really holding you back –  it could be your health, finances, or your relationships. There’s not a right answer, but pick the area that most often come to mind as holding you back…or pick the area that you think you have the most control over. The important thing will be to make progress over time, build up confidence and momentum and that will enable you to address other areas of your life.

    Once you’ve identified the area of your life that you want to change, then come up with a small change that you could start doing immediately and consistently. It should be really easy to do, but still be meaningful. Here are some quick ideas that might give you a starting point:

    • Start a savings account and religiously put $100 in it every week / month (obviously the amount and timing depend on what you could afford).
    • Every time you want to eat potato chips, have some fruit or vegetables instead. Don’t change anything else, just make this 1 switch and do it every day.
    • Start reading great books to broaden your mind. Commit to 10 pages a day…or a book a month…something that’s easy to do but meaningful.
    • Schedule lunch/coffee/dinner once a week with someone on your list of friends who you don’t see often enough. Be consistent and don’t miss a week for any reason.

    Imagine if you really committed to any of the changes above (or something along those lines that was more important to you). Imagine sticking to your new rule for a full year…you will be better off than you were before and because it should be easy to do (by definition based on what you picked), it should be something that will become a habit going forward.

    Do you feel like you need a bigger change than what’s outlined above? There are no shortcuts – but if you start small, then you can roll in another change on top of what you’ve already started to master.

    Remember – slow and steady wins the race.

    Want some more insight into these ideas?  Check out The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson or The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.

    What small change could you make this week? Have you tried this approach? Did it work for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach